Prejudiced parents abuse the right to withdraw children from RE classes, say teachers

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Islamophobic and antisemitic parents are abusing the right to withdraw their children from religious education lessons due to their prejudices, teachers have said.

The government should take steps to prevent prejudiced parents from selectively withdrawing youngsters from RE classes, the ATL section of the National Education Union (NEU) heard today.

Richard Griffiths, from inner London, said he was concerned about evidence which suggests there has been an increase in the abuse of the right parents have to withdraw their children from the subject.

He argued that the “rare cases” where parents’ religious beliefs provide genuine grounds for withdrawal are “very different to the cases of parents with certain prejudices including Islamaphobia and antisemitism who wish to remove their children from certain lessons or visits to places of worship”.

Mr Griffiths warned removing children from classes due to prejudices “would significantly hinder the ability of the school to prepare a child for life in modern Britain”.

He told the union’s annual conference in Liverpool: “I’m sure you are well aware of the dangers of members of society closing themselves off to the rest of the world, the dangers of social media channelling an ever more extreme reflection of people’s beliefs without balance and the dangers of those children who are ignorant of other religious beliefs and non-beliefs.”

Kim Knappett, the union’s vice-president, said she had been shown a letter from a parent who was asking to remove their child from RE because she said she thought it was “so foul” that she recommended reporting it to Prevent – the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The motion – which was passed by delegates – urged the union to work with the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education to determine the “extent of the selective use of the right of withdrawal”.